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Chief Warrant Officer Fabian Salazar stood stiffly at attention, his eyes straight ahead — never betraying a single emotion.

But his brain churned with memories of Chief Warrant Officer Theodore Cotco-Manes as taps echoed through the Rotunda of the Capitol.

"We were best friends," Salazar, 49, said. "Brothers. I always think of him."

Both were in the Utah National Guard, but Cotco-Manes died of leukemia in 2005.

Salazar and a group of Latino service members and veterans were part of an hourlong program to recognize the military service of Latinos at the Capitol's third-annual Latino Day.

The event was attended by more than 300 people and featured Lt. Gov. Greg Bell reading a proclamation by Gov. Gary Herbert, as well as remarks from House Speaker Becky Lockhart and Senate President Michael Waddoups.

It was the most well-attended Latino Day in the event's short history and was notable because it almost didn't happen.

Under the shadow of several immigration reform bills — including the white-hot, enforcement-only bill authored by Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem — the Office of Ethnic Affairs originally pulled out of the event, citing the immigration debate as one reason.

The office also pulled state funding, leaving event organizers scrambling to come up with the roughly $500 to provide food and equipment to put it on. They were eventually able to get Zions Bank to sponsor the event.

Both Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, and Senate Minority Leader Ross Romero are employees of the bank and spoke at the event.

Organizers said they were also pleased to have Lockhart and Waddoups attend and speak. Lockhart spoke about her Latino roots, but she also cast a wide net to address the larger pool of diversity in Utah.

"I believe society works best when there is a melting pot of ideas, while at the same time, we adhere to the fundamental principles and values that make us who we are," Lockhart said.

Latinos make up 11.6 percent of the Utah population, and the Pew Hispanic Center counts 110,000 undocumented people living in the state — the majority of whom are classified as Latino or Hispanic.

Archie Archuleta, president of the Utah Coalition of La Raza, noted the latter population in his remarks and singled out Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank and the authors of the Utah Compact as "bringing sanity to the arguments that are going on about immigration."

The compact is a set of principles endorsed by community, business and church leaders that urges a humane approach to immigration reform.

Salazar said it was nice to pay respects to Latino soldiers — many of whom were in attendance dressed in camouflage. But he quickly noted that "on the battlefield, we're all brothers."

He said he remembers when he first joined the National Guard 25 years ago and used to joke: "I represent 100 percent of the Latino pilots in Utah."

That has changed, the helicopter pilot said, and ticked off the names of several Latinos he knows, some of whom he served with during his two tours in Afghanistan.